Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thousands gather at Fort Benning to oppose School of the Americas.

This year's gathering at the gates of Fort Benning, Ga., marked the 19th year that activists came together to voice opposition to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas. School of Americas Watch (SOAW) organizers estimated the crowd on the first day of the events, Saturday, Nov. 22, at 12,000 and the crowd on the second day, Sunday, Nov. 23, at 20,000.

The days leading up to the weekend of Nov. 22-2 were filled with workshops, documentaries, learning, and breakout sessions, giving early arrivals a chance to network with others sharing their opposition to the institute. A group from Manchester College participated in many of the sessions. Nick Kauffman, a Manchester senior, shared his reasons for attending: "One of the things that makes the SOAW vigil special among protests is the faith-centeredness. Instead of the anger and jeering I encounter at other political events, there's more of an emphasis on God's call to a different life. I think SOAW is an important witness, both for myself and for the Church of the Brethren, if we're to take seriously Christ's call to seek justice and love our enemies."

Saturday began with thousands of people perusing the hundreds of information tables lining the street leading to the military base. Throughout the day there were presenters, speakers, and musicians on the main stage of the event.

Saturday evening the Brethren Witness/Washington Office hosted a Brethren Gathering. Close to 80 people attended. Four colleges--Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa.; McPherson (Kan.) College, Bridgewater (Va.) College, and Manchester College in North Manchester, Ind.--were recognized as having students at the gathering. Peter Buck from Equal Exchange spoke to the group about buying fair trade goods, and connections between Equal Exchange, the Church of the Brethren, and Latin America. Hayley Hathoway from Jubilee USA Network spoke about debt relief and the work of Jubilee, which is an advocacy partner of the Church of the Brethren.

On Sunday morning thousands more gathered in the street in front of Fort Benning. They marched in a solemn procession that lasted almost three hours. During that time people walked by the razor-wired gates of the base, while names of people who were killed by those trained at the School of Americas were spoken. After each name was spoken, crosses, hands, and voices were raised in salute. "Presente," the procession mourned, "you are accounted for." Six people were arrested for civil disobedience.

Source: 12/31/2008 Newsline

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